This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Relationship Bumps

Every relationship experiences bumps. In a strong relationship, those bumps may be minor and infrequent, but they do happen. Even in the best of relationships, large or small bumps arise, sometimes as a gradually building disharmony and sometimes as a major obstacle which arises completely unexpectedly. These bumps come about because people are human; they get tired, they have flaws, they act selfishly, or they fail to understand the other person.

In the Christian's relationship with God, bumps also occur. Again, for some Christians, those bumps may be infrequent, and they may never become significant enough to seriously threaten the relationship, but they do happen. In this spiritual relationship, the reason for the bump always rests with the human; God never gets tired, He has no flaws, He always acts in gracious love, and He knows His children perfectly.

What do these bumps look like? They can be expressed with much the same terminology that is used to describe rift between people. "He doesn't love me anymore. If He really loved me, He wouldn't have done that. He doesn't know how I feel. That was just mean. He doesn't know how hard that particular challenge is for me, or He wouldn't have asked me to do it. I don't feel close to Him anymore. There is nothing special - no zing - in the relationship. His actions toward me really hurt. I'm not sure I trust Him anymore."

These types of statements do not stop with thoughts or words alone. Such beliefs (whether true or not) are followed up with actions. They are usually expressed by pulling back in some way from the other person. In the case of God, the believer becomes less faithful at church. He stops reading his Bible, or reads the Bible casually and out of duty, failing to give close attention to what he reads. He stops telling others what God is doing in his life. He no longer participates in testimony time at church. He stops talking to God about his struggles. He ceases trusting God. He starts watching movies or going to activities to distract himself and fill his time. His heart fails to respond to encouragements that come his way.

Some responses of pulling back in a relationship may seem minor, posing little threat to the relationship. They last a few hours or days, contributing nothing more than a little awkwardness until everything is patched up and back to normal. Other actions are more extreme, and the potential danger is evident. Unless significant steps are taken, the bump will become a permanent rift. In reality, any response of pulling back poses a threat. A small rift can lead to a larger rift just as easily as it can to swift resolution. Any division is an invitation for larger and larger wedges to be driven in. What may start out as an intent not to talk to God for a day or two can unwittingly and rapidly escalate into a complete avoidance of God and church.

Any bump is dangerous and can spell great danger for the Christian's relationship with God. As noted previously, however, humans are imperfect; therefore, bumps will occur. How ought a Christian to respond in those times so that the relationship is protected? What can a Christian do to make sure the bump is smoothed over and the relationship can move forward?

Pulling back, whether intentional or subconscious, may not be as a result of anger or malice; sometimes it simply reflects needing time to recover and for the pain to ease. In order for healing to occur and for the relationship to return to normal, the pulling back must be kept to a minimum both in terms of distance and duration. There must be a firm and underlying commitment that will not accept the possibility for a permanent or even lengthy withdrawal.

The Christian may be unable to talk to God like he did in the past, but he still needs to talk to God. If all he can get out is talking to God about the hurt, then he needs to talk to God about that. He needs to keep the communication open. He needs to tell God the responses that he wants his heart to have, even though they may seem far from him at the moment.

The Christian may not want to read the Bible, but his need to read the Word has not changed. Maybe he will spend several weeks or months in the Psalms, feeling that is all he can absorb. Maybe he repeatedly returns to a few favorite verses. Maybe his usual hour of study becomes five minutes of reading. Whatever the adjustment, the believer cannot abandon the Word.

The struggling believer may find church attendance too challenging, but he still needs to go. Perhaps he will sit more toward the back. Maybe he will interact less with others. Perhaps his mind will wander from the sermon to focus on his own situation. He may not be able to tell others any more than, "Pray for me." The Christian must, however, remain committed to church.

In each of these areas and more, if the Christian finds himself unable to do all that he knows he should, he must at least keep fighting. He will not always win the battle, but he cannot give up trying. He must ask God to help him want to do the right thing and to protect his heart from hardening. He cannot stop believing that God loves him, never intends to hurt him, is always guiding, is enough for him, and so forth. The believer may not always feel or see those things, but they are nevertheless true. Continuing to believe in spite of what seems true is what keeps the relationship moving forward.

Commitment to pursuing a relationship is what allows it to grow. Due to the determined effort required, perhaps it actually grows more during a bump than it would if everything were smooth. Continuing to fight through hard times indicates and requires a level of trust that will not give up even when all is not smooth. This attitude reflects a heart that affirms, "Even if He has hurt me, and even if I don't understand, I will still follow Him." With commitment during such times, things may feel a bit tentative for a while; as one continues working at the relationship, however, the uneasy feeling will fade. Assurance and comfort will return. Before long, the relationship will not only be back to normal, but actually stronger than ever. Determination to remain true to a relationship even during the rough times reflects an understanding that the relationship is permanent and cannot be broken. God will never break His end; the choice is up to the believer.

"I must arise now and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I must seek him whom my soul loves." Song of Solomon 3:2 (NASB)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Memorial Day

Several years ago, my pastor at the time gave a definition of a memorial that went something like this: “a monument or statute designed to honor a person or event that should never be forgotten.” Over the space of nearly 250 years, our nation has had men and women who have served at great personal sacrifice. Some of those have given their very lives in order to procure and preserve the freedoms we enjoy. The sacrifice of those brave soldiers should never be forgotten. We should not take lightly what they have done or what they have provided for us. We cannot forget them in an intellectual way, nor can we forget them in a practical way – by living in stark contrast to the ideals for which they fought.

How should remembering our fallen heroes impact the way we live? In short, we should be good citizens of the country they helped to craft for us, and we should appropriately use and enjoy the freedoms they helped to secure. We should vote. We should stand up for what is right. We should tastefully exercise our rights of speech, assembly, religion, bearing arms, and so forth, while being mindful of the rights of others to do the same. We should be active in our communities, schools, and churches, not hoping for someone else to do all of the work. Speaking of work, we should support ourselves rather than expecting the government (i.e. other taxpayers) to give us everything. We should keep our properties and surroundings clean and respectable. We should honor our soldiers and those leaders who seek to uphold our nation's standards. We should support our police and other public servants by living in a way that does not cause them extra work or conflict.

As Christians, we have another important memorial to keep in mind. We have a Savior, who over 2000 years ago also made a great personal sacrifice. We cannot comprehend the extent of that sacrifice, as He left the perfection of heaven to live on a sin-filled earth. He ultimately made the supreme sacrifice, as He gave His very life in order to give us freedom from sin and to provide us with the blessing of salvation. This sacrifice should never be forgotten either. We can’t take lightly what Christ suffered or what He has provided for us. We cannot forget in an intellectual way, nor can we forget in a practical way – by living in apathy or even direct violation of what Christ died to provide.

How should remembering Christ's sacrifice impact the way we live? We need to be good citizens of heaven while sojourning on this earth. We can't take sin lightly. We can't excuse our failures. We can't immerse ourselves in the godless activities and entertainment of the world. We must be holy in our thoughts and actions. We must love others that God loves. We must seek to minister to others as ambassadors of God's love. We must be faithful to God, faithful in church, and faithful to our families. We must shine as lights in a dark world. The list could go on, but in essence, we honor Christ's sacrifice by living in a manner becoming of His children and by seeking to join Him in advancing His mission in the world.

Psalm 78 describes the danger of forgetting, as illustrated by the children of Israel. Time after time they forgot the works of God, including unbelievable works they had seen with their own eyes. Their forgetfulness led to disastrous consequences, as related throughout the psalm. They turned back in the day of trouble. They didn’t keep God’s covenant. They refused to walk in His law. They sinned yet more against Him. They provoked Him. They tempted Him. They spoke against Him. They believed not in God. They trusted not in His salvation. They sinned still, and they believed not. They flattered Him with empty words and lied to Him. Their heart was not right with Him. They were not faithful in His covenant. They often provoked Him and grieved Him. They turned back and tempted Him. They limited Him. They tempted and provoked Him. All of these responses were because they had forgotten what He had done.

God established the Passover celebration as a perpetual memorial for Israel. He knew how important it was for them to remember what He had done, and He purposefully and deliberately established an annual holiday. Just in case they never remembered at any other time, at least then they would remember what God had done. Though they might stray from Him through the course of the year, at least they would be reminded once every year and would be drawn back to Him.

Similarly, God has established a memorial for Christians today to help them remember what He has done. He instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we will never go too long without remembering Christ’s sacrifice and what it means to us. It is dangerous to forget. Forgetting leads to carelessness, disobedience, and rebellion. God knows how forgetful we are, and He deliberately and purposefully ordained a memorial for us. When God reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice through the Lord’s Supper, He is in part preventing us from ending up with lives of disaster and judgment. As we are reminded of Christ's sacrifice, we are encouraged to live in a way that honors that sacrifice. Remembering does influence behavior.

"So that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." I Thessalonians 2:12 (NASB)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Psalm 119 - Author

In studying Psalm 119, a logical question comes to mind. Who is the author? He is not named or identified. If the author were known, would there be additional insight or help from the psalm due to understanding the circumstances of the author's life?

There is a widely held assumption that the author was David. Jewish tradition holds that belief pretty firmly. David clearly loved God and the Word, so the content fits. He is attributed with authoring the largest number of psalms, so statistically speaking, he is a good guess. He did write other psalms of an acrostic nature, so style is not a question. Many of David's psalms clearly identify him as the author; this one does not, but there are other psalms that are also believed to be David's although they do not bear his name. So could David be the author? Possibly.

Another common suggestion is Ezra. As a scribe, he would have been in the right position to be familiar with the Word and have affection for it. As someone involved in promoting revival after Israel's captivity, it is a fitting topic for him. He is traditionally credited with writing Ezra and the Chronicles, so it is not shocking to consider him as a Bible author. His education would likely have qualified him for writing poetry. The support for a later author, perhaps during the captivity, seems to revolve around the wickedness of people mentioned in the psalm, those who opposed the psalmist. These do appear to be God's people rather than the heathen, suggesting the later years of Israel's decline. Certainly, however, the failure of God's people was not limited to this time frame. Could Ezra be the author? Perhaps.

The final two suggestions are entirely my own. I wonder at the possibility that Asaph may have been the author. His identified psalms are 50 and 73-83, so he did author a significant amount of Biblical content. As I read Asaph's psalms, I see a man of great passion. He is a man with great internal depth which he is not afraid to express. He is a man who feels things deeply, something that the author of Psalm 119 does as well. He is also a man of ups and downs. He experiences struggles, but he consistently brings himself back to truth in answer to those struggles. He is a man who talks about his spiritual journey, which is precisely what Psalm 119 records. Based on this passionate heart and transparency, could Asaph be the author? Maybe.

Next, I suggest Heman as a possibility. He is the author of Psalm 88, which describes a desperate man whose life is on the brink of ruin due to his walking away from God. In the psalm, he begs God for help and appears ready to start a new chapter of his life in which he intends to pursue God. Several verses in Psalm 119 would fit this scenario. Verse 8 asks that he not be forsaken utterly, as if he is a man who feels forsaken, and in that context aspires to be blessed like those who keep God's ways. He speaks of reproach (v. 39) and shame (v. 6) in relation to God's commandments, and indicates that perhaps his way has not always been pure (v. 9). I believe there is some likelihood that the psalm is written by a relatively young man (at the beginning) who has never tried to walk in God's ways before, but after personal revival is turning his life around and aspires to do so for the first time. Could this psalm be the sequel to Heman's Psalm 88? Not out of the question.

Finally, it is entirely possible that none of these is the correct answer. It would not be unlike God to use an unknown author, someone who never received public recognition. After all, this spiritual journey is open to anyone, not just to those who are well-known or who experience some position of advantage. Perhaps the psalm is written by an ordinary Jew, someone who early in his life had the awareness to make some thoughtful observations. He saw those who were ahead of him, some of whom had fallen from God's ways and others who had not. As he considered their lives and the consequences of their choices, he aspired early in life to follow God and to walk in the way of blessing. The psalm then is a record of his journey. Could Psalm 119 be written by a common, obscure author? Definitely.

In the end, God did not choose to reveal the author's identity, and it doesn't matter. I believe the anonymity allows any reader to identify with the psalm. If the author were known, it would be easy to distance oneself from the scenario. Someone could day, "After all, I'm not a king or a scribe or a musician." Or, on the other hand, "I've never walked away from God." With no identified author, the psalm is universally relevant.

The truth is that the journey described in Psalm 119 could have happened in any of the scenarios listed above. It could be true of a David, a man after God's own heart, who earnestly seeks God. It could be true of an Ezra, a servant of God who is burdened for the backslidden people around him and resolved that he will remain faithful. It could be true of an Asaph, a man with genuine desire to follow God, but who constantly faces the battle of focusing on truth in times of struggle. It could be true of a Heman, who in spite of past failure, is determined for the first time to follow God. It could be true of an unnamed young man who is making choices that will shape the rest of his life.

God can do a work in any of these lives. He can lead each of these believers through progressive stages of maturity, so that they reach of point of spiritual success and blessing. As with this psalmist, God's work is not limited to the subject himself. As the believer is unashamed of sharing his story and living his testimony before others, observers can be encouraged and challenged in their own lives. It is not perfection, but passion, that inspires others. A heart hungry for God and dedicated to Him is a great tool God uses to promote growth among His people.

"O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." Psalm 119:97 (NASB)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Psalm 119 - Tav

In contrast to the previous stanza which may have seemed like an appropriate conclusion for this psalm about the psalmist's upward climb in God's ways, this stanza seems at first glance to be a rather odd conclusion. After seeing the growth, success, and victory that this man has experienced, and after observing the tremendous blessing he has enjoyed, the reader comes upon a stanza that nearly gives the impression of all being lost.

Instead of continuing to portray victory, the stanza is filled with expressions of need. There are seven requests beginning with the word let; these are things that the psalmist wants to be true in the future. They may have happened in the past, but the author now prays for God to bring them about again. The first six of these requests fall nicely into three pairs, with each set giving a different prayer focus.

First, the psalmist needs attention from God.
"Let my cry come before You" (v. 169).
"Let my supplication come before You" (v. 170).
He needs God to hear his prayer, which presupposes that he has needs which require prayer. The needs themselves are not surprising; they are the common lot of life. The possible surprise is that the psalmist feels like he needs to ask God to hear him, as if he feels alone and neglected. In spite of the maturity this man has obtained, he still needs God, the only one who can meet his needs, to give attention to his prayers.

Second, the psalmist needs a resolution of praise.
"Let my lips utter praise" (v. 171).
"Let my tongue sing of Your Word" (v. 172).
He has seen how faithful God is. He has seen the blessings of the Word. He has praised and lifted God up in the past. He needs God's help, though, to continue offering that praise. There is in each believer the tendency to forget and to gradually stop doing things that ought to be continued. Without God's prompting, the psalmist knows his potential to neglect the praise that God deserves and to take the blessings for granted.

Third, the psalmist needs deliverance from trouble.
"Let Your hand be ready to help me" (v. 173).
"Let my soul live" (v. 175).
Added to these requests is the prayer of verse 170: "Deliver me." With whatever strength and wisdom this man may have achieved, he is still unable to save himself. He needs God's help and deliverance in the challenging situations of life. His life has not become free of trouble; verse 175 indicates that his very life may be in danger. This man is still human and frail. He needs a divine and powerful God to rescue him.

Fourth, the psalmist needs understanding from the Word.
"Let Your ordinances help me" (v. 175).
He also prays, "Give me understanding" (v. 169). He has learned so much from the Word, yet he still keenly feels his lack of wisdom. He still perhaps wants to lean on his own understanding, and therefore asks God that it would be His ordinances that would provide the help. After all his devotion to the Word and the intimate knowledge it has produced, this man still realizes that he has not learned everything he needs to know. He must continue to look to the Word.

Fifth, the psalmist needs restoration from failure.
"I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant" (v. 176).
This final verse is perhaps the most shocking request of all. The psalmist has achieved such growth and maturity, such spiritual success and blessing, only for this statement to close out the psalm! He is not immune to temptation. He has fallen. His fall is significant enough that he asks God to seek him and bring him back. He cannot even return to sweet intimacy with God unless God does the work.

Each of the requests may seem unusual from the man whose testimony has been revealed in this passage. Does he not know by now that God hears his cry? Could he possibly forget to praise the God whom he has come to know and appreciate? Could he have forgotten God's faithful deliverance throughout his life? Has he not learned to automatically turn to the Word for answers? How could he have gone astray from the truth to which he has dedicated himself?

These seemingly strange requests indicate spiritual sensitivity. Each is actually a prayer of maturity. This man wisely realizes that he cannot rest on past achievements or success. He knows his journey is never done. He understands there is always room for more growth. He is aware of the constant potential for failure. Because of these realizations, the psalmist remains always dependent on God.

Very importantly, this man continues to remember the Word. "I do not forget Your commandments" (v. 176). He still recalls that they are righteous (v. 172) and still delights in them (v. 174). There is no room for a believer to relax, depending on his history of devotion to the Bible. A man who is content that he pretty much knows all there is to know about the Bible, who fails to refresh himself in its truths, quickly becomes anemic and weak. There can be no coasting through to the end; instead there must be a sustained pushing all the way to the finish line.

Letting the guard down and relaxing the intensity leads to precisely what the psalmist mentions in the final verse: failure. The dependency on God that permeates this stanza is crucial. These prayers for continuation of God's work through the Word form a very appropriate closing for this wonderful psalm.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Psalm 119 - Shin

Although one stanza of the psalm remains, this stanza seems at first glance to be a fitting conclusion for the psalm. The psalmist began the psalm by admiring those who lived according to God's Word, by noting the great blessing that came to them, and by expressing his heart-felt desire to be one of them. In this stanza he notes the achievement of his goal - he has learned to walk faithfully in God's ways. He has also realized the blessings he had sought; he overflows with rejoicing over the blessings of the Word.

There have been many lessons along the way, along with many difficulties and challenges. In some stanzas the psalmist cried out desperately in great affliction and need. At times there seemed to be no answer and no end to his troubles. This stanza, by contrast, is remarkably positive and uplifting in nature. There are very few negative words. The psalmist mentions "falsehood," but only because he hates it (v. 163). He refers to stumbling, but only because he doesn't do it (v. 165). The most negative phrase is the very first one, in which he declares that "princes persecute [him] without cause" (v. 161), but again it is something that does not trouble him.

Instead of acknowledging the negative, the psalmist talks of his success in walking in God's ways. He has learned to obey God faithfully and to live in the right way. "[I] . . . do Your commandments" (v. 166). "My soul keeps Your testimonies" (v. 167). "I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies" (v. 168). "All my ways are before You" (v. 168).

Also on the positive side, the psalmist declares his love for the Word of God. He has come to love and appreciate the Word of God to an extraordinary degree. "My heart stands in awe of Your words" (v. 161). "I rejoice at Your word" (v. 162). "I hate and despise falsehood" (v. 163). "I love Your law" (v. 163). "Seven times a day I praise You" (v. 164). "I love them exceedingly" (v. 167).

This great rejoicing and appreciation is based on the tremendous blessing he has received from the Word. There are a number of specific blessings that he mentions.

First, there is joy in the psalmist's spirit. His relationship with the Word fills him with delight and exuberance. The stanza is filled with statements illustrating that result. His life is sweeter and more uplifting because the Word is such an important part of it.

Second, the Word brings the psalmist peace. He declares that those who love God's law "have great peace" (v. 165). Even when faced with unjust persecution, he remains untroubled (v. 161). The chaos of life does not disturb him.

Third, the Word is a treasure. The psalmist views his discoveries in the Word to be as valuable as if he had just uncovered "great spoil" (v. 161). The value of the Word is so great because it provides true riches to be applied in the areas that really matter.

Fourth, the Word provides the psalmist with truth. This is in contrast with the falsehood that leads to disaster and death (v. 163). The psalmist doesn't need to worry about being led astray because he is led by the dependability of God's "righteous ordinances" (v. 164).

Fifth, the psalmist has stability. He has an anchor to hold him secure and a foundation to keep him upright in the face of whatever storm or attack comes. The psalmist says about those who love God's law that "nothing causes them to stumble" (v. 165).

Sixth, the psalmist anticipates salvation (v. 166). He has a place to turn for refuge and deliverance. He has something that will meet his every need. He is never left without an answer.

With such tremendous blessings, it is no wonder that this man loves the Word. It is no wonder that his words are filled with joy and praise to God. It is no surprise to hear his overflowing admiration for the Word.

Reaching the level that the psalmist reached is not unachievable for any Christian. It is possible. Such maturity does not happen overnight, but it does happen as a believer pursues the Word on a regular basis. Gradually the knowledge of the Word increases. Steadily the ability to walk according to the Word grows.  Progressively the love for the Word compounds. Steadily the blessings brought by the Word multiply. It may be years before one realizes he has reached the goal he has earnestly sought, but the effort of each day contributes to the journey. It will be worth it all to experience the joy and blessings of walking in God's ways.

"Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances." Psalm 119:164 (NASB)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Psalm 119 - Resh

The words of prayer in this stanza reveal a heart of maturity. The psalmist has developed a deep relationship with God and a strong bond with His Word. He makes some bold statements to reveal this relationship. "I do not forget Your law" (v. 153). "I do not turn aside from Your testimonies" (v. 157). "Consider how I love Your precepts" (v. 159). He also claims to "loathe [the treacherous] because they do not keep" God's Word (v. 158).

These statements are a far cry from the longings expressed in the opening stanza of the psalm. In the beginning the psalmist saw other believers living that way, and he desired it for himself. The first stanza conveys almost a sense of wonder: Could this ever be true of me? Now it is. The psalmist isn't just saying words here in this stanza. He isn't trying to convince himself of his spirituality or impress others with his maturity. He is speaking directly to God, someone that he knows he cannot fool. He is able to declare these statements without shame or fear because God Himself knows they are true of him.

The psalmist makes these statements with a purpose. His prayer shares a request and a reason for making the request. "Look upon my affliction and rescue me, for [because] I do not forget Your law" (v. 153). What is it about this man's relationship with the Word that gives him the boldness to make such a request? How can he feel so free to ask what he does from God?

In part, it is because maturity has taught him what to expect from God. As he has learned what the Word teaches, he has seen God's character revealed. Three times in this stanza, the psalmist asks for revival. In each case he asks for it based on what God's Word says about His character and what He will do. "Revive me," he prays, "according to Your word" (v. 154), "according to Your ordinances" (v. 156), "according to Your lovingkindness" (v. 159). From his knowledge of the Word and of God revealed in the Word, he knows that revival of the righteous is to be expected. He also knows the same response is not expected for the wicked. He knows that "salvation is far from the wicked" (v. 155) because they don't seek God.

Along with knowing what to expect from God, the psalmist is also bold to ask for help because of the relationship he has with God. This is not a man whom God sees as a stranger or a casual acquaintance. He is not a "Sunday morning" Christian or someone who gives lip service only. This is a man who is devoted to God and His Word. Verses already mentioned recount his remembrance of, obedience to, and love for the Word. He esteems God and His Word highly, stating, "Great are Your mercies" (v. 156), and "The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting" (v. 160).

The psalmist is not afraid to give the reasons why God should work on his behalf, nor is he afraid to ask God to act. His prayer may provoke the question, "Does God  intervene in a greater way for faithful and mature Christians than He does for others?" The answer is too complex for human minds to fully comprehend, but the answer seems to be that at least sometimes He does. The answer is not strange when examined from a human comparison; people are more likely to do something significant for their families or close friends than for total strangers. God is not limited to human responses, and He sometimes does amazing things even for those who don't "deserve" them. There does seem to be support, however, for asserting that God does special things for those who have shown themselves to be His friends in a special way.

The emphasis is on the relationship. A mature Christian doesn't earn or deserve God's blessings because of what he does. Christian groups have routinely conducted studies and surveys to find out what makes a successful Christian or some similar goal. This can lead to artificial Christianity, as people will then pray or read or attend or dress or talk to a specified criteria, expecting their actions to automatically produce the desired result. They fail to realize that it is a devoted heart that leads to the desired goal; the actions and behaviors are reflections of that heart rather than checklists of effective steps for reaching that goal.

That devoted heart is what allows the psalmist to pray as he does. He is bold enough to ask what he does because he has the spiritual maturity, based on his knowledge of God's Word, that lets him know what is reasonable to expect from God. He is also bold to ask because he has the intimate relationship with God that gives him a basis for this kind of conversation. He mentions his maturity, and he asks for revival, but he does not require God's response; anything other than a completely submissive spirit would belie the devoted relationship he claims to have.

"Consider how I love Your precepts; revive me, O LORD, according to Your lovingkindness." Psalm 119:159 (NASB)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Psalm 119 - Qoph

Once again the psalmist finds himself in need of help. The only identification of the trouble comes in verse 150: "Those who follow after wickedness draw near." Does the psalmist need protection from these wicked men? Or does he need help in responding correctly through their attack? He does not specify, but most likely the answer is both. The prayers of shallow disciples ask only for deliverance from the external challenges; those of the devoted also ask for victory in the internal challenges.

That this man is crying out for help is quite apparent. He states, "I cried with all my heart" (v. 145), "I cried to You" (v. 146), and "I cry for help" (v. 147). His words indicate a need for someone to hear him and respond: "Answer me" (v. 145) and "Hear my voice" (v. 149). He asks God, "Save me" (v. 146) and "Revive me" (v. 149).

As the psalmist cries for help, he turns to the right place. His entreaties are clearly directed toward God. Nowhere in the passage does he mention any other person as his help, but he repeatedly cries to God. "Answer me, O LORD!" (v. 145). "I cried to You" (v. 146). "I wait for Your words" (v. 148). "Revive me, O LORD" (v. 149). "You are near, O LORD" (v. 151). His thoughts are so God-centered that in this stanza about his personal situation, the psalmist uses more references to God (LORD, You, Your) than he does to himself (I, me, my).

The best way for a believer to see God is through the Word. The psalmist appropriately does his part, by seeking God's help through the Word. He knows the Word is dependable; he declares it to be "truth" (v. 151), and he recognizes its faithful history (v. 152). In this difficult time, the psalmist devotes time to the Word, apparently more than normal. In order to seek God and His Word, the psalmist reveals, "I rise before dawn" (v. 147) and "My eyes anticipate the night watches" (v. 148).

Though the psalmist faithfully seeks God and turns to the right source, he is dependent on God to respond. Man must seek, but all his seeking falls short if God does not bless. This man cries out "with all [his] heart" (v. 145) for God to do just that. As already noted, he repeatedly asks not just for a listening ear to hear his cry, but also for a gracious hand to answer and respond. This man needs God to do His work so that his prayers are not in vain. The psalmist fully expects God to respond, because that is what God does. God acts in accordance with His lovingkindness as well as in harmony with how He is revealed in His Word (v. 149). This needy man ends the stanza by reminding himself of both the faithfulness of the Word and the nearness of his God.

In desperate times this man knows where to turn. He is left crying out from the depths of his heart, but he cries to the right source - a loving and ever-present God. As he waits for God's answer to be revealed, he seeks in the right place - the faithful Word of God. Will he be disappointed? Will the deliverance come? It is uncertain how or when the external attack will stop. With his focused dependence on God and His Word, however, this man will have victory in the internal battle. That successful answer is found only in God.

"Hear my voice according to Your lovingkindness; revive me, O LORD, according to Your ordinances." Psalm 119:149 (NASB)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Psalm 119 - Tsadhe

No reader who is reasonably engaged can fail to notice the common theme in this stanza: righteousness. A form of the word is mentioned in verses 137, 138, 144, and twice in verse 142. Each of these words comes from the same root, a word referring to moral rightness, something that is cleansed and justified. It contains no error and no spot whatsoever. The words are used to describe both God and His Word. It is certainly logical that since God is without flaw and entirely correct in everything, His Word is also. Such a pure God could not write anything with error.

In addition to the word righteous, there are several related words that carry similar meanings. Verse 137 contains the word upright, identifying God's judgments as being straight and equitable, never crooked. Verse 140 states that God's Word is "very pure." This picture is that of metal that has been refined by fire, with all the dross removed; it is exceedingly and wholly so. Verse 142 equates God's law with truth; it is certain, right, and without falsehood.

These words assure the believer that the Bible is trustworthy. Everything in it is correct and pure because the God who wrote it is correct and pure. Family and friends may give advice, but one never knows for sure if that advice can be relied on. Not so with God's Word. There is no room for failure, falsehood, misevaluation, or even the slightest variation from what is right. This characteristic makes the Word of God a wonderful guide for life. It is the manual with all of the right answers.

Other descriptions in these verses lift the Word of God to an even higher level (if that is possible). Words spoken or written by people can be right and true. The problem is that even when humans get something exactly right, their success is only temporary. What they say may be true now, but may not continue to hold true over the course of time. People do not maintain a consistent record. Sooner or later they fail.

God and the Bible never have that potential for failure. God gave His Word with "exceeding faithfulness" (v. 138). It is overwhelmingly firm and secure. God's righteousness is "everlasting" (v. 142). It will never fail, no matter how far into the future one goes. The final verse of the stanza states that the Word is righteous "forever" (v. 144). The wonderful truth about God's Word is that its righteousness will never end.

A believer does not have to be concerned that the Word that was right for his parents or grandparents will be wrong for him. In fact, he can look as far back as the apostles and the early church, even to Isaiah, David, Moses, or Adam. The Word that was right through all those millennia has not changed. It is still just as righteous today. Neither does a believer need to have concern that the Word will fail his children or grandchildren. The Bible will always be righteous.

This amazing truth is helpful and encouraging when the believer responds correctly to it. The psalmist states that he loves God's Word (v. 140) and that it is his delight (v. 143). Because of how faithful the Word is, the psalmist holds it in high regard. This adoration of the Word of God is perhaps simpler than the two other responses that the psalmist mentions.

First, he must have understanding of God's Word (v. 144). The Word cannot give comfort and help if the believer does not comprehend its meaning. It is knowledge of the faithful and righteous statements of God's Word that enables the believer to face life and respond correctly. Understanding of the truth gives help and hope. The truth of the Bible is still very real even if the believer does not understand, but it is the comprehension that gives hope and assurance.

Perhaps the most challenging of all is what the psalmist mentions in verse 141, where he states that he does not forget God's Word. All too often a believer knows the truth, but he fails to be helped by it because he forgets it at the critical time. Tensions and pressures take over. Emotions seize control. Anxious thoughts rule the mind, and the truth that ought to help is squeezed out. The problem is not with the effectiveness of the Word; it is with the focus of the believer. The Word is righteous forever; it will not let the believer down, but the believer must remember and focus on it to profit from its help.

"Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live." Psalm 119:144 (NASB)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Psalm 119 - Pe

In this stanza the psalmist expresses profound devotion for the Word. He declares that it is "wonderful" (v. 129). He values it because understanding of it "gives light" (v. 130). He longs after the Word so intensely that he "opened [his] mouth and panted" for it (v. 131). This man clearly loves the Word, but his love is not limited to  being merely a feeling.

The psalmist's love provokes reactions within him. One reaction is related to the wicked. He reveals that his "eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep [God's] law" (v. 136). His devotion to the Word is so great that his heart is burdened when he sees other people violating it.

The response is not confined, however, to sorrow over the actions of the wicked. The psalmist is also so devoted to God's Word that he is concerned for how he lives personally. It is easy to see the blatant wickedness and the extreme godlessness of the world. It is easy, even expected, for believers to be burdened or outraged over such opposition to God. It is another thing to respond so definitively to one's own violations of God's law - violations that may seem mild in comparison.

The psalmist is concerned about his own obedience. He prays for his footsteps to be established in the Word so that iniquity will not have dominion over him (v. 133). He prays that he will be able to keep God's Word (v. 134). He knows the reality of the temptation and the human propensity to sin, and he does not want to yield to those tendencies. He does not want any sin to have victory over him, causing him to violate God's commands.

Wisely, the psalmist asks for God's help. He knows he cannot win the battle alone. He asks God to "turn to [him] and be gracious to [him]" (v. 132). He asks God to "establish [his] footsteps" (v. 133). He asks for God's face to shine upon him, and for God to teach him (v. 135). His desires are right, but he cannot achieve them without divine help.

Churches are filled with people who say the right things. These people speak of their passion for God. They testify that they love God and His Word. They protest the wickedness of the world. They decry the degradation of society and the apathy of other Christians. All of these are good responses. The question this passage prompts is whether there is any practical display to support this stated passion.

Passion for God is not limited to words. Passion for God expresses itself in actions. It expresses itself in a life commitment to walk obediently in God's ways. It expresses sorrow over sin, discontent over complacency, and disdain for mediocrity. A Christian with a passion for God doesn't just say it; he lives it.

"Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me." Psalm 119:133 (NASB)